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Giulio Clovio (1498-1578)

Ganymede c. 1540?

Black chalk | 19.2 x 26.0 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 913036

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  • A black chalk drawing copying Michelangelo’s lost 'presentation drawing' of Ganymede being abducted by Jupiter in the form of an eagle.

    The drawing depicts the myth of the beautiful young shepherd Ganymede, abducted by the god Jupiter in the form of an eagle and carried away to Olympus, where Jupiter made him his cup-bearer. It is probably a partial copy of a highly finished drawing in vertical format, made in late 1532 by Michelangelo as a gift for Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, along with a drawing of Tityus (RCIN 912771). Michelangelo’s original drawing is probably lost, and copies of the composition exist in two formats. One is vertical in orientation, with Ganymede and the eagle in the sky and, below, a landscape with the boy’s crook, bundle and startled dog. The other, as here, is horizontal, consisting solely of Ganymede and the eagle, the figure group identical to that in the vertical format. There is no secure example of Michelangelo himself making a line-for-line replica of one of his own drawings, and it is likely that the horizontal format is a simple reduction of Michelangelo’s originally vertical composition, though the pairing of the Ganymede and Tityus – which must presumably have been intended by Michelangelo – obviously works much better with Ganymede horizontal like Tityus. (See P. Joannides, Michelangelo and his Influence, 1996, no. 15.)

    Thematically as well as formally, the Tityus and Ganymede were a pair, each depicting a single nude dominated by a huge bird, and representing the opposed forms of love in Neoplatonic philosophy: the base carnal lust that leads to earthly suffering, and the spiritual love inspired by beauty that leads to the Divine – not just a fleeting rapture, but the permanent transcendence of the soul. Although the myth of Ganymede concerns one of Jupiter’s many sexual conquests (and was frequently used as a by-word for homosexuality), it was also subject to spiritual interpretations: Cristoforo Landino’s widely-read commentary (c.1480) on Dante’s Divine Comedy, for example, stated that ‘Ganymede would signify the mens humana, beloved by Jupiter, that is, the Supreme Being. … Removed, or as Plato says, divorced from the body, and forgetting corporeal things, it concentrates entirely on contemplating the secrets of Heaven’ (E. Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, 1939, p. 215). While Michelangelo’s depiction strongly implies an airborne sexual union, his closely-related poem to Cavalieri describes the analogous joining of two minds in a single spiritual elevation:

       S’un casto amor, s’una pietà superna,
    s’una fortuna infra dua amanti equale,
    s’un’aspra sorte all’un dell’altro cale,
    s’un spirto, s’un voler duo cor governa;
       s’un’anima in duo corpi è fatta eterna,
    ambo levando al cielo e con pari ale;
    s’Amor d’un colpo e d’un dorato strale
    le viscer di duo petti arda e discerna;
       s’amar l’un l’altro e nessun se medesmo,
    d’un gusto e d’un diletto, a tal mercede
    c’a un fin voglia l’uno e l’atro porre:
       se mille e mille, non sarien centesmo
    a tal nodo d’amore, a tanta fede;
    e sol l’isdegno il può rompere e sciorre.

    (If one chaste love, if one sublime compassion, if one fortune affects two lovers equally, if one harsh fate matters as much to both, if one spirit, if one will rules two hearts;
       if one soul in two bodies is made eternal, lifting both to heaven and with the same wings; if Love with one blow and with one golden arrow burns and tests the bowels in two bosoms; 
       if each loves the other, and neither himself, with one taste and with one delight, with this reward that both direct their will to the one end;
       if these were multiplied a thousand times and more, they would not make a hundredth part of such a bond of love, and of such great faithfulness; and only disdain can break and dissolve it. (Trans. C. Ryan, Michelangelo. The Poems, 1996.)

    The present drawing is the best known example of the horizontal Ganymede, and was in earlier times thought to be Michelangelo’s original. Scholars such as Berenson and Frey expressed doubts about its status, and A.E. Brinckmann (Michelangelo Zeichnungen, 1925, no. 88) stated definitively that it was a copy. All later scholars have followed this opinion. It is most probably by Giulio Clovio, displaying his sharp but slightly tentative handling of contour, his distinctive formulation of extremities, and his habit of building up forms with thin hatched lines, worked over with long, soft passes. The drawing was apparently made over a stylus underdrawing, traces of which are visible in places around the outlines. S. Buck (Michelangelo’s Dream, 2010, p. 122) has verified that the dimensions of Ganymede and the eagle are identical to those of a drawing of the vertical composition in the Fogg Museum (inv. 1955:75, sometimes claimed as Michelangelo's original drawing) which bears extensive stylus indentations around the outlines, and it is likely that the present sheet was traced from the Fogg sheet.

    Another horizontal copy by Clovio, signed ‘di D. Giulio’ is in Palazzo Abbatellis, Palermo (inv. 5237/161), and Clovio also executed a painted miniature of the Ganymede, on parchment, for Duke Cosimo de’ Medici, now in Casa Buonarroti, Florence (inv. 1890). There are numerous other derivations from the Ganymede, such as an engraving of the vertical format of 1542, probably by Nicolas Beatrizet; a lost crystal by Giovanni Bernardi that is known through numerous bronze plaquettes; and perhaps most remarkably, a symbol of the divine elevation of Cosimo de’ Medici in Battista Franco’s painting of the Battle of Montemurlo (1538; Galleria Palatina, Florence).

    The drawing is inscribed in pen on the verso Ex divino Raffael Urbinas, imperfectly scratched out.


    Listed in George III's 'Inventory A,' c.1800-20, p.43, 'Mich: Angelo Buonarroti. / Tom. I.' (c. 1802): '20. Ganimede on the Eagle of Jupiter….Black Chalk.' [Inv. B (c.1810): '...Ditto' ['Copies in Black Chalk']]. Earlier provenance unknown.

  • Medium and techniques

    Black chalk


    19.2 x 26.0 cm (sheet of paper)